2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5GT Review
By Chris Haak
In an effort to keep up with the Joneses – in this case, the new Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart – Subaru upgraded its WRX for the 2009 model year with a horsepower boost from 224 to 265 and made the car available with only manual transmission. However, much of what the 2008 WRX had, including the 224 horsepower/226 lb-ft of torque 2.5 liter turbocharged boxer four, was transferred directly in the the newest Impreza model, the Impreza 2.5GT.
The castoffs from the old WRX still consist of some pretty solid hardware. As with all Subarus sold in North America, the 2.5GT comes with standard symmetrical all wheel drive. As noted earlier, an automatic transmission is also standard (albeit a four-speed automatic), as are 17 inch aluminum wheels, a 10-speaker stereo with a 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof, leather wrapped steering wheel, automatic (single-zone) climate control, power windows and locks, and remote keyless entry. So, pretty much all of the modern conveniences to be expected in nearly any car in this price range are included.
I won’t beat up the Impreza for it’s looks; while its style is something only its mother could love (or in this case, its designer), nearly every other review of the Impreza has lambasted the car for its styling. Suffice it to say that if you’re someone who values outward appearances in your automobile, you’d be best served by looking elsewhere. The various creases and angles are similar to those in the also-overwrought Acura lineup, yet the tall greenhouse is even worse. Most cars look best in profile; the Impreza looks best from head-on. The top-dog (and far more expensive) STi variant gets different fenders front and rear with aggressive flares, and that works far better than the somewhat stylistically-challenged, nearly bulge-less fenders in the “regular” Impreza.
So what about the interior? In photos, it’s actually pretty good looking, with electroluminescent gauges and metallic-look trim, plus a leather wrapped steering wheel. In fact, looking at it while sitting in the car, it’s not even too bad, aside from somewhat rough graining and a monotone charcoal appearance. Start touching things, however, and the problems begin. The center armrest is har
d plastic, and very short; the entire dash surface is hard plastic, as are the door panels except for a very small area on the armrest (but the door panel adjacent to the armrest, which will also come in contact with the driver’s arm, is hard plastic). The doors emanate a somewhat hollow sound when opening and closing them, reminiscent of the Impreza’s economy car roots.
While the HVAC controls were easy to operate even with gloved hands, the automatic climate control feature was probably the dumbest I’ve ever seen. I’d set the fan and mode to auto and adjust the temperature to 74 degrees on a cold morning. Once the engine had started to warm up, the fan would gradually spool up and start warming the car. So far, so good. However, the fan would continue on full blast – with hot air coming out – until the car’s interior was well beyond the normal realm of a comfortable temperature, and certainly above 74 degrees. My alternative was to either manually turn the fan’s setting to a lower speed, or to adjust the temperature setting to something in the mid-60s; otherwise, I would have melted, or at least been unable to hear the radio or carry on a conversation with passengers.
I found the front seat room to be adequate for a 6’4″ driver like myself, and the tall roofline made the headroom better than average as well. Sitting in the back seat “behind myself,” there was enough room to fit, but I wouldn’t want to sit there for a long time. That’s OK, though – I feel the same way about most cars, including many midsize sedans. The seat that I spent all of my time in – the driver’s seat – was cloth-covered and reasonably comfortable during hourlong-plus stints behind the wheel.
Ah yes, the steering wheel. It meets my standard requirements for a good steering wheel; leather-wrapped, small diameter, and fairly thick rim. It also has redundant cruise control and audio controls – including a handy mute button – on the right and left spokes, respectively. It falls nicely to hand, and is perfectly paired with the shape of the hood over the instrument cluster, so that all of the large, visible gauges are easily and quickly read. In terms of driving position and ergonomics, the Impreza 2.5GT does a pretty good job.
Once in gear, the Impreza 2.5GT is a fairly quick car – and it should be, given its small footprint and impressive power and torque numbers. On paper, the car is hampered by its ratio-challenged four-speed automatic, but in reality, the engine’s copious torque (for a four, at least) keep things moving along nicely after a brief bout of turbo lag upon step off. The engine is not quiet at higher RPMs, but few four-bangers are. The limitations of the four-speed auto in this application manifest themselves with a wide span between ratios, meaning that a kickdown is often not into a low enough gear, or into a gear that’s too low. Also, highway fuel economy falls behind the more powerful and similarly sized and priced Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart because with fourth gear as the tallest ratio, it can’t be as tall as it could have been in a six-speed like Mitsubishi offers. The Impreza 2.5GT is rated at 19 city/24 highway by the EPA, incidentally, and my experience was, as usual, close to the city rating, with about 20 miles per gallon observed economy. I didn’t have the opportunity to take the car on any extended highway trips during its time with me, which obviously would have added a few miles per gallon to my average economy.
Due to poor road conditions, I couldn’t take the Impreza on my usual handling loop to perform an evaluation of its behavior at the limits, but I found it very easy to squirt the little car into traffic openings when necessary. The all wheel drive hardware was great on wet roads – and even dry roads, where it was impossible to spin the tires. The night before the representative from Subaru arrived to pick up the car, we had a few inches of snowfall, which made me appreciate why Subarus are most popular in New England and in the Rockies; the cars are made with winter driving in mind. Thoughtful touches like heated clothseats, a heavy duty heating element in the windshield to melt wiper blade ice, and of course the all wheel drive traction all make the Impreza a great winter car for snowy climates. I started the car as I began shoveling my driveway with the defroster on full blast, and by the time I had finished shoveling, the car was toasty and the windows were clear of ice (I only had to brush loose snow off of the windows and body panels). I climbed into the car and headed out on a winter driving test. I found that the car was actually easier to drive on hard-packed snow with the traction control turned off, and – while noting that I kept my speed very moderate – the Impreza was able to handle curves without any trouble. Simply keeping a gentle, yet consistent, throttle application around curves let the all wheel drive system do its work. Let’s just say that the hardware knew what it was doing.
The Impreza 2.5GT starts at $27,690 including destination. This is less than two hundred bucks more than the price of its arch-nemesis, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart (Full Metal Autos review coming soon). The Subaru includes some standard features that the Mitsubishi doesn’t (such as a moonroof), while the Mitsubishi includes some features the Subaru doesn’t (such as a dual-clutch six-speed transmission and another 13 horsepower from its turbocharged four cylinder). The Mitsubishi also includes an adjustable differential and paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Left unsaid until now is the fact that for the Impreza’s price, you could buy a larger and better equipped front wheel drive sedan such as a Chevy Malibu or Honda Accord, giving up nothing but some performance and the all wheel drive, but getting better fuel economy.
If you’re looking for a pretty quick small car, has all wheel drive for foul weather, and dispenses with the aggressive bodywork (and high price) of the performance flagship STi, and don’t want a wagon, the Impreza 2.5GT might be for you. If you don’t have a problem with the small wagon/cute-ute styling, I’d recommend my favorite Subaru, the 2009 Forester, instead. The Forester is better looking (to my eyes) and has an amazingly roomy interior and can be had with the same 224-horsepower 2.5 liter boxer four (or the same non-turbo 2.5 liter boxer four). I only wish that the 224-horsepower engine in both the Forester and Impreza was available with a manual transmission, because thatwould be the hot package. So, the Impreza isn’t my favorite Subaru, but there’s nothing really wrong with the car that a cute-ute body (or another 75 horsepower and a manual transmission) couldn’t cure.
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